Cancel Brooklyn Nine-Nine again

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine was, in fairness, a very good idea. Cop shows are one of the most enduring dramatic engines on television: taking the police procedural and crossing it with the workplace sitcom was, if not inspired, certainly a clever conceit, offering a premise that could easily sustain ninety-nine episodes and then some. Really, it’s no wonder that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is as popular as it is. It’s smart and it’s funny, the cast are fantastic, and it’s reliably charming in a way that makes for perfect comfort-food television. It’s better than a lot of the shows it most clearly resembles, too – better than Parks and Recreation, better than The Good Place – and better than a lot of shows it doesn’t resemble too.

It’s also a lie. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the police are sweet and silly and basically harmless; the actual New York Police Department is plainly anything but.

Cop shows are essentially image control for police departments. They always have been: Dragnet, one of the earliest examples of what we understand now as the modern police procedural, was strictly fact checked by the LAPD’s Public Information Division, and many of its contemporaries were written by former policemen. Decades later, with crime dramas spinning off into one franchise after the next, that perspective has calcified and become ubiquitous: the police are always the protagonists. The supposed need for police and policing is always being reinforced, even if individual officers are singled out or structures are criticised – cop shows don’t have, and can’t have, a frame of reference beyond the police. There will never be a meaningful critique of the police within the confines of a cop show, because cop shows fundamentally believe in the need for the police.

Those inclined to defend Brooklyn Nine-Nine would point to those episodes where it engaged more directly with a complicated reality. But that too serves to exculpate the police, whether intentionally or not. Sometimes, Brooklyn Nine-Nine critiques the past, but in doing so it comments on the present, and the implication of progress whitewashes the very real problems that still endure. In contrast, when Brooklyn Nine-Nine has made efforts to address contemporary failings on part of the police, it’s always been in terms of individuals rather than structures, positing that it’s just a case of ‘one bad apple’ rather than anything wider. Its widely-celebrated fourth season episode Moo-Moo is deft and sensitive, but it’s so focused on the actions of one individual it misses the point of the systemic criticism levelled at the police; if anything, Moo-Moo is more of an argument as to why ‘good’ cops might choose to stay silent, portraying them as sympathetic rather than complicit.

In eliding those systemic issues, Brooklyn Nine-Nine sanitises the police. The idea that there are individual good and bad police officers is an unhelpful one, belying the reality that the problem isn’t the individuals at all, but the wider structures and unjust laws they uphold. (Although it’s also worth just digressing briefly to point out that they aren’t even good cops in Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Jake makes arrests on intuition rather than evidence; Rosa is quick to use excessive force; so on, so forth.) Arguably, it’s not a million miles away from sharing staged pictures of police officers kneeling at protests: at best it’s a distraction from the real issues, and at worst it actively encourages complacency and ignorance.

Terry Crews has said that Season 8 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine will touch on recent protests, the cast and crew having had “eye-opening conversations about how to handle this new season”. The idea of an lazily caricatured activist finding a heartwarming compromise with the ‘good cops’ at the 99th Precinct is repugnant, but there’s something about it that seems almost unavoidable – Brooklyn Nine-Nine won’t be able to ignore the protests entirely, nor will they be able to meaningfully critique the police while still holding to their original premise.

Perhaps the show could be salvaged through total reinvention – if, when season 8 started, the characters were all teachers, or journalists, or postal workers, refuting the cop show premise entirely and tacitly admitting to its flaws. Arguably it’d be the strongest textual statement they could make about police brutality, far more meaningful that any ‘very special episode’ could hope to be: such a reinvention would be a genuine acknowledgement that, yes, the narrative Brooklyn Nine-Nine advanced as a goofy show about lovable police was and is a harmful one that need be abandoned.

Short of that? It’s time for the show to end. At this point, it’d be no great loss: it’s nearing its conclusion anyway – the ninth episode of the ninth season no doubt an attractive stopping point – and these are all talented enough performers that they’ll easily find work elsewhere. (Stephanie Beatriz can be the new Batwoman, for one thing.) As it is, though, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is tantamount to propaganda – a slick, well-made comedy that tacitly argues that the solution to police brutality is simply a nicer and more diverse police force. It whitewashes real issues and obscures real solutions, to the point of being actively harmful – so it’s time, surely, to cancel Brooklyn Nine-Nine again.

For more, A World Without Police, by the organisation of the same name, is a useful starting point. Meanwhile, Alex S. Vitale’s The End of Policing is currently available as a free eBook, and Angela Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete? can be found here.

You may also want to donate to Black Lives Matter UK or to the Black Visions Collective in America.

Related:

Space Force is too deferential to be satirical

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Nathaniel Blume on Prodigal Son, composing music with a bone saw, and more

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One of the central characters is a serial killer named The Surgeon; I got on eBay and found a surgical tool kit, a pair of bone cutters, things like that. We have a nice live room here at the studio, and I just set up shop in there, laying out all the various tools on a table, as well as a plastic tarp to approximate a body bag sound. We just turned on the recorder, and I went to town with all the various things that I had.

There was a little bit of a process afterwards of going through and finding the best sounds, and chopping them up, and making musical instruments out of them on the computer – essentially attaching all of those sounds to the keys on the keyboard, so that it became a playable instrument, almost like a drum pad of sorts, for the percussive elements. When I wrote the initial suite after reading the script, it came in handy to use those sounds as a starting point for the show.

Interviewing composers is always quite a lot of fun, actually – I know very little about music (I went to ukulele lessons for a few years and I still couldn’t tell you what a chord is), but every composer I’ve ever spoken to has always been really enthusiastic about their craft, which always makes for a really interesting discussion.

And Nathaniel was no exception! I thought his almost sort of ‘method composing’, using bone saws to score for a serial killer character, was fascinating to hear about. So, you know, click through and read about it.

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The Resident is a medical show that hates the medicine industry, and there’s something weirdly captivating about that

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In almost every episode, there’s one clear villain. It’s not illness or disease, or even really medical malpractice exactly – it’s the profit-seeking motive. People die because hospital administrators emphasise finances over patients, or because they don’t have the right insurance, or because they end up on the wrong side of a cost-benefit analysis. In one episode, Conrad performs an expensive, expressly forbidden medical procedure to save someone’s life; in the next, people die because the hospital is understaffed as a result of trying to balance the books after that operation. There’s a real vein of cynicism and disdain for what The Resident describes as the “questionable ethics” of its setting – in short, The Resident is a medical programme that pretty openly hates the medical industry.

It’s not that it’s entirely unique in addressing the failings of the American medical system – but, rather than it being the Act 4 obstacle in occasional episodes, the damage wrought by the profit-seeking motive is an inalienable fact of The Resident’s status quo. That’s what sets it apart, and why I’m still watching; if nothing else, I’m curious about where exactly it’s going to go. There’s a sense that the show is grappling with a problem it’ll never solve, albeit for obvious reasons; I can’t imagine any of the characters ever leaving to become universal healthcare lobbyists, or The Resident ever breaking with reality by depicting the sweeping reforms needed to resolve its central obsession.

So, this is an article that had a little bit of an interesting journey to it.

As I outline at the start of this piece, my plan initially was to liken The Resident to House, given the show itself seemed to beg such a comparison. Essentially, I was going to write a sister article to my earlier piece on how The Good Doctor moves on from House – discussing all the ays in which The Resident doesn’t, and how it struggles to do anything interesting with the ‘abrasive medical antihero’ format even as it tried to deconstruct it.

However! The people working on The Resident clearly realised there were some flaws with the pilot, and shifted focus to move the show in a different direction, meaning The Resident became something a little weirder: a medical show that openly hates the American medicine industry. It still wasn’t very good, and had a lot of weird stuff going on (the finale, because I ended up watching it for that long, had a very eek line about how doctors are the same as cops) but it was, as I said, weirdly captivating.

What you might also notice about this piece is that it’s in first person, which isn’t something I typically do with this type of article. (I do do it with reviews, though this isn’t the time to explain my internal review vs article distinction.) Mostly I just wanted to try somethign a little new. I’m not convinced it… not that it didn’t work, but I suppose more that it didn’t really make a difference. Which is either a good thing or a bad thing, because I don’t quite remember what the idfference I wanted it to make was, if indeed there was any.

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The Assassination of Gianni Versace is an intimate portrait of a killer, granting him the fame he always sought

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It’s not about the assassination of Gianni Versace, as many have already noted. Or, at least, it’s not just about the eponymous assassination, casting it as inciting event rather than the climax of the series. Instead, The Assassination of Gianni Versace is about the assassin, Andrew Cunanan, and the events that led him to murder the internationally renowned designer.

The series moves backwards through Cunanan’s life, tracing his story in reverse; it’s a confident piece, expertly structured in approach. Rearranging the drama to watch the story unfold chronologically wouldn’t have the same effect – it’s layered in such a way that each backwards step complements what’s gone before, honing and accentuating The Assassination of Gianni Versace as a whole. Moments described in hindsight in one episode play out in present tense in the next; expectations are subverted and tension is heightened, a sense of not just dramatic irony but deep melancholy evoked as we move through the tapestry of Cunanan’s life. Note especially a scene from the sixth episode, Descent, a conversation between Cunanan and David Madson, a former lover and eventual victim. Madson is trying to connect with him, asking about his childhood; you can see his face fall as Cunanan, seemingly, starts to lie once again, and it’s this apparent lie that drives a wedge between them. Yet as the series continues, it’s revealed that Cunanan wasn’t lying. It’s not, obviously, that this excuses or justifies anything he did – but there’s a certain sadness to it all the same, and an insight into the neuroses that drove him.

Quite proud of this article on what is, as far as I’m concerned anyway, one of the best shows of the year. Intense and compelling and deeply moving, The Assassination of Giannia Versace is very, very much worth checking out.

I was, actually, so pleased with this article I put it in my portfolio, which you can check out here. I didn’t get the title quite right, admittedly, but I’m still pretty pleased with the actual content of the piece.

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How The Good Doctor responds to and moves on from House

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It’s not difficult to read The Good Doctor as something of a spiritual sequel to House; indeed, the programme almost asks you to. Certainly, the two dramas share particular thematic concerns. Both are about brilliant doctors positioned as liminal figures, using medical drama as a lens to advance a character study. Their eponymous stars are, if not isolated, placed at the periphery of society: in House, because of House’s misanthropy, borne of his chronic pain and depression; in The Good Doctor, it’s because Shaun Murphy is neuro-divergent.

Where House had a vein of nihilism running through it, however, The Good Doctor is a fundamentally more hopeful programme. This is inarguably the biggest difference between the two shows, each with almost diametrically opposed central perspectives forming. As stated, House always had a vein of nihilism running through it – a product of the eponymous character’s misanthropy, and his distrust and often disdain of those around him. There’s a certain cynicism to House, a programme generally disposed to reach for the dour note and underscore a sense of world-weary scepticism. The Good Doctor, meanwhile, is decidedly more sentimental in approach, more inclined to find and dwell on a positive note – a programme that finds value in life and in people, rather than just pain.

It took me a little while to get into The Good Doctor, admittedly; at first, it felt more than a little… well, rubbish.

Quickly, though, I began to appreciate it more – not just because it improved (it did) but because I realised just how it was being positioned as a spiritual sequel to one of my favourite programmes, House. This is a series in constant conversation with its predecessor – in terms of characters, themes and plotlines – and The Good Doctor ultimately makes a much more hopeful and inclusive statement than House did.

In the end, I’m quite pleased with how the article turned out – it was something that had been gestating for a while before I eventually came to write it, so it was good to get it down onto the page. (I’d meant to edit together a nice image of House and Shaun together, but I couldn’t get it to look nice, which is a shame.) I suspect I’ll end up returning to the ideas I sketched out above at some point; like I said, I really do love House, and I think one day I might quite like to do a podcast or blog series about the show – and, on the basis of that first season, any critical analysis of House that didn’t go on to mention The Good Doctor would be incomplete.

(I do feel, though, that I should also link to the following accounts of The Good Doctor by some writers with autism, simply because that’s a perspective I lack and it’s one that needs to be acknowledged in any discussion of the show.)

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The Orville is just Star Trek fan-fiction, but that’s not such a bad thing

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Yes, for any given episode of The Orville, you can quite easily point to which episodes of The Next Generation it’s riffing on and remixing. No, it’s never quite as clever or novel as the source material that inspires it – if nothing else, they got there first. What it does offer is the feeling of watching Star Trek, in largely the same way fanfiction does. And that makes sense, because that’s pretty much exactly what this show is. Not fanfiction at its most subversive or compelling, no, but at its most basic level – a fun little thing on the side that lovingly recreates the sense of the show you love.

So, an article about The Orville. It took me a while to warm to this show, which at first wasn’t great – especially with the, for lack of a better term, “gender-themed” episode, which remains the nadir of the series – but I did eventually reach a point where I had mixed-to-positive opinions on it. Mostly, I found it quite entertaining by virtue of how shamelessly Star Trek inspired it is. It’s quite literally Seth MacFarlane’s self-insert fanfic, and I found that rather endearing.

While I was writing this article, though, I did start to wonder if there’s actually a more compelling piece to consider – comparing The Orville and it’s relatively simple recreation of Star Trek to the more subversive, often female-driven, fan fiction that exists. Especially, actually, considering the legacy of Star Trek fanfiction as a whole – arguably some of the first fanfiction in the sense we understand it now was Star Trek inspired, and it wasn’t just remixing the episodes, it invented slash fiction. I hope someone who knows enough about this stuff has written a piece on it. Equally, though, I might go and research it and write about it myself.

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Looking back on Firefly’s first episode 15 years later

It’s always interesting to look back on a show that is as popular as Firefly became – there’s an expectation that, perhaps, it won’t live up to the reputation its garnered, a belief that perhaps the cancellation was justified, and really everyone does need to just get over it.

But, it’s got to be said, the show did have a very strong debut.

A little piece I did on Firefly recently. This piece shall be dedicated to my pal Robbie, who likes Firefly very much.

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Making a House a Holmes

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Of course, though, House is also a riff on Sherlock Holmes. Consider his impressive deductive powers; where Holmes applies this skill to catching criminals, House applies it to diagnosing diseases. House’s entire process of a differential diagnoses is quite similar to Holmes’ famous method of deduction – once you have ruled out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbably, must be the truth.

There’s plenty of little links and references dotted throughout the series, though; our good doctor in House also lives at 221B, after all – the infamous address of the world’s most famous consulting detective. Further, when House is shot at the end of the second series, the shooter is named in the credits as “Moriarty”; the Napoleon of crime who was involved in the almost death of Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, now immortalised forever as Holmes’ greatest enemy. Even Irene Adler gets a namecheck in the fourth season’s Christmas episode, and in another yuletide special, we see Wilson gift House a “first edition Conan Doyle” book.

My latest post for Yahoo TV, discussing the links between the good detective, and the good Doctor as well.

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House?

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There’s this thing House does (I’m watching repeats) where it’s sort of… semi-serialised. Big things are carried over (like the Huntington’s) but some of the smaller things don’t. And it means that a load of stuff just comes out of left field, which aren’t built up nor are mentioned again.

One I keep thinking of is… Brennan, his name was. The fellow who worked in third world countries and eventually poisoned a patient so he could get funding for clinical trials. Now… before the episode in which he was fired, he hadn’t shown much of an inclination to do something like that before – it was really as though that whole thing had been made up to get rid of him. Which it probably was.

I think that could have been relatively easily remedied by… well, maybe once an episode, or every other episode, he could have mentioned how upset he was about the social injustices of medicine or some such. At least that way there would have been a precedent of sorts.

The same thing sort of applies to Thirteen’s Huntington’s… her shaking was introduced in the same episode the Huntington’s was first considered.

So, yeah. They’ve stopped doing it around the end of series 4 now. Although apparently it might happen again. Hmm.

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